Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Right There by Melissa Mann

The short lines and repeated sentence structures of Melissa Mann's Right There give the poem the frantic feel of an insomniac mind; it reads like the 4 AM poem that the note preceding it identifies it as being. Characteristic of sleepless thought, too, is the way the poem builds from minor kitchen accidents to relationships to social inequality then draws them all together again. At first the conclusions drawn from what is focused upon seem exaggerated, the products of a mind that sleep because it is overwrought:

You see this burn on my arm?

Right there

Is why you should never


Slowly, they come to make more sense. Avoiding a dent in the wall (and presumably a minor injury on the part of whoever hit into it) is probably worth restraining one's urge to tell one's partner

To open

The sodding

Tin of beans


Even the flattened characters who appear near the end fit into the insomniac mindset: the "hedge fund manager", the "single mum" become like the shadows outside the insomniac's window, incompletely known yet able to fuel the speaker's racing thoughts.

Nonetheless, the lines about

that disabled woman

On the tube

Having to ask someone

To give up their seat

are problematic because people with disabilities often suffer from people seeing them only as disabled. Here the speaker not only echoes this unfortunate tendency but goes on to use the woman to prove her a point that frankly has nothing to do with the woman but is, rather, an appropriation of her identity and situation. (Besides, the fact that not all disabilities are visible or make someone need a seat on the subway seems entirely overlooked.) Similarly, the "single mum in Rotherham" is nothing more than a geographical location and a single mother whose home has been repossessed. Why is she a single mother? Why is she in such a desperate position?

The answers don't seem to matter for this poem; they show the limits of the speaker. "It's all right there"— even the reasons why the speaker cannot go beyond fantasies of dropping out of society and being loved to work to improve "the steaming pile of shit" and to fix her relationship.

Less redeemable is the verse about the heart wrapped in muslin. The confusion of cause and effect (one should hide one's heart away so as to avoid hiding one's heart away), while reflective of insomniac thought, slows the poem's pace. More importantly, specifying that the material hiding and protecting the heart is muslin does little to relieve the cliché.

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